Thursday, January 9, 2020


Okay, I don't adore STEAM (though I prefer it to STEM). I'd rather dance, or sing, or do art  or cook with the kids.

So this month, I combined STEAM activities plus art plus yoga, and had a lot more fun.

Each week we did an art/science activity, went into my story room for a short yoga session, then came back and either finished our activity, or did an additional activity.

Week 1: Farm Week

Activity 1: STEAM

We did "Color Changing Milk" with several different kinds of milk products. It's loads of fun, but we unfortunately used the Ivory dish soap we had on hand. Trust me, use Dawn instead. Because this activity involves fats, the Dawn soap is much more effective.

Activity 2: Yoga:  We went into my story room and did Farm Animal Yoga, which was different animal yoga poses, all done while singing "Down On Grandpa's Farm."  Because cows and goats and sheep all give milk, and we were doing milk activities. Get it?

Activity 3: Painting with milk. We ended up using heavy cream which worked well as a medium. The kids enjoyed this, but for practical reasons didn't take their artwork home. But we did take pictures of their creations:

Everyone loved it, I think.

Coming up in week 2, in the fall I introduced my kids to leavening with baking powder and baking soda. And it's time this month for some yeasty fun!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Yoga At the Library: Part 1: Beginnings

 About 5 years ago, I did training with Child Light Yoga, and got certified to teach baby and toddler yoga.  Most of the other folks in training were either yoga teachers already, or were folks intending to set up businesses, or just teachers. I was the only librarian--and as a result, how I've used what I've learned has been a lot different from how I think the training expected me to use it!

I work in an open room, not a closed studio. I can't register people--see that first bit. I have tons and tons of nannies who really don't want to attend programs, simply are required to by parents, and because it's not a pay program, it's hard to motivate them.

And then there's me. I've gotten the yoga training, but I'm also a dancer. Twenty years of adult ballet has not made me ready for the corps de ballet, never mind a Misty Copeland. And though I love and often take things from the "Intellidance" program, again, my conditions don't allow for me to do things the way she does. Add 30+ years of doing library story times and music, and it all adds up to my NOT doing things the way I was taught.

I started with baby yoga--which is the easiest to do because it's mainly the parents who are active. Not doing poses really, but interacting WITH their babies.  The one difficulty I have is that my babies vary from 6 weeks to 11 months, so we have a range of abilities. But I manage.

From the start, I've always added lots of music to our programs. Instead of chanting "in and out!" as we do an in and out game, we sing "Roly Poly" (the tune is "Frere Jacques) as we do the digestive poses.  It's easier for parents to remember, and babies groove on music, especially live music sung by their grownups.

At some point I started searching YouTube for "baby yoga" videos, and that's how I came upon "Birthlight Yoga," and the amazing Francoise Freedman. There are some great videos of the Australian Birthlight classes using music with their moves the same way that I do, and I learned even more from Francoise's videos. It reinforced that what I was doing was a workable approach.

So here are some of those videos.

  Coming up in part 2 of these posts, my "Mother Goose Yoga" for toddlers. And by that, I mean 12-23 month olds.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

STEAM: A Sweet Potato Is Not A Yam

During our last STEAM program in this series, we showed the kids the difference between a sweet potato and a yam:

Yams are the tubers of lily plants that are native to Asia and Africa.
A yam like the one shown on the left can weigh 3-4 pounds! Their skin is rough and bark like. I bought one in a local international food store--it was imported from Ghana

Sweet potatoes are really just a kind of potato--or kinds,since there are several including "white" sweet potatoes. And they are native to the Americas.

African slaves saw the sweet potatoes growing here and used them the way they were accustomed to using yams. And they called them "nyami." Hence us calling them yams.

I let the kids handle the yam and the sweet potatoes. And then we gave them cut up sweet potatoes, mushrooms and other vegetables, paper and paint and let them make art with them:

 There are a lot of variations in what they did. Older kids might get the idea of potato printing to form a constant design, but our kids were a lot more freeform. They used the vegetables in some cases the same way that they would have used paintbrushes. The celery leaves were especially good for using in a brush like way. I was glad that no one decided to try paint flinging--we've had that before, and it would have been a mess to clean up!

These first two examples were done by the older kids in our group--which for us, means somewhere between 5 and 7.

 This was done by one of our 3 year olds. It looks like all he did was smear paint, but he actually stamped the paper first with the various veggies. And THEN he smeared the paint!

We also talked a bit about apples. I showed the kids the bottom of the apples. If you look carefully, most apples have a dried bit of stuff at the base, which is the remnants of their flower. We looked a little bit at a book about apples, and talked about the different varieties.

While the kids were doing paint art, I was making applesauce. They'd each sliced an apple and then I tossed them in the microwave with a little water. It takes about 15-20 minutes for the apples to soften into sauce, especially if you are using a low power microwave--and I was.

Then we put them through a food mill--and this makes the applesauce smooth and pink!
If you'd like to see the whole process, there's a post about it HERE on my cooking blog.
The kids got to take some home--in tiny plastic containers, so they each got a small sample.

That's all the STEAM for now. More in JanuaryQ

Thursday, November 14, 2019

STEAM: Adventures With Cranberries and Corn

When I start researching for these programs, I learn amazing things!

Take cranberries. I had the kids guess whether they would sink or float. Then we dropped them into a pan of water to see what would happen.

They float--and then we cut one open to show why.
Cranberries have 4 tiny air pockets!

Cranberries float, and if you can get them to float, it makes them easy to harvest. But contrary to what I always thought, they don't actually grow in water. Cranberry bogs are marshy places NEAR water, and the fields are flooded to harvest them. I found a really neat video to show the kids the cranberries floating, and how they are gathered and harvested. It's a long video, and I only showed them about 2 minutes of it in the middle.

 My STEAM kids and I made cranberry sauce together. It's easy to do--we just added sugar and water to the berries (basic recipe on the bag) and cooked them in the microwave. You could do it on your stove top too, but the microwave is much easier, and a little faster. Just be careful they don't pop all over your microwave! I took them out several times to let them see the process--from foamy pink to smooth dark red, and to see how the berries popped. The sauce went home with the kids in tiny Ziplock containers that hold about 4 ounces.

While the sauce was cooking, we had fun exploring corn. Did you know that there are 4 general types of corn--one of them being the sweet corn that we eat?  Did you know that about 1/4 of EVERYTHING in your supermarket has corn in it, ranging from obvious things like breakfast cereals to salad dressing (corn syrup), pet foods and GLUE?
Now we do. We also know that corn is native to the Americas, that it comes in many sizes and colors, that the Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims to grow corn, and that you can't pop regular corn. 

The only kind of corn you can pop is called flint corn. It is dried to about 14% moisture, and when it is heated to the point of boiling, the steam trapped in the corn causes it to explode--POP!

And did you know that corn pops in 2 different shapes?  Most of the corn we eat is snowflake shaped when it pops. But the corn used for kettle corn and caramel corn looks like little mushrooms.

This is what kettle corn looks like.

Then we gave the kids plain popped corn (made in the microwave, no oil or salt) and card stock, markers and glue and let them make popcorn art! 

Coming in our last STEAM program in this series: yams and sweet potatoes are NOT the same thing.
Plus pink applesauce!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Pumpkin, Pumpkin, A STEAM Event

I keep playing baby/toddler games and singing songs about pumpkins long after the Halloween hullabaloo is over because pumpkins are such a part of November. While many of us love pumpkin treats, for the Pilgrims it was a survival food. They learned to grow them from the Wampanoag tribe, and during that early time in Plymouth, pumpkin was a staple winter food. The Pilgrims weren't that happy about it, as one nameless Pilgrim wrote: “Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies: We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon; If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone.” 
  It doesn't rhyme well, but then, you could say the same for a lot of librarian piggyback songs.......

The first STEAM programs I did were last year in October, and we had a Halloween STEAM theme.

 This year in November, I decided to do a "Fall Harvest" theme, and I started by pulling out 3 favorites from last year's programs:

1) I got the idea for pumpkin & toothpick structures from several STEM related blogs, including Lemon/Lime adventures. You can see their version HERE. I was able to buy the gummy pumpkins in bulk at Wegmans, and even better, I got them a few days before Halloween, when the Christmas stuff had already taken over (!) and they were on sale. The kids really enjoyed doing this, and we ended up running out of toothpicks!

2) What do you do with a pumpkin after Halloween?  Ours usually go in the compost, but I grabbed one of the pumpkins my daughters had done and brought it to work for one of our truly greatest moments from last year's STEAM, the infamous "puking pumpkin."  This is the same sort of thing usually done as a volcano, simply tossing in some baking soda and then pouring in vinegar.
The kids just loved the fun of this, but it's actually a teaching moment about baking soda vs. baking powder. My sort of thing, because cooking is something I'm at ease with!

Baking soda is a chemical base. To activate it, you have to add an acid--in this case plain old vinegar. The combination of the two causes a chemical reaction--it creates CO2, otherwise known as carbon dioxide, the stuff we breath out, the stuff that makes soda fizz.

Baking powder already has both an acid or a base. All you need to create this effect is to add water, which allows the acid and base to react together. You can show this by simply dropping some baking powder into a bowl of water--and it's a good way to test your baking powder at home to make sure it's still good!

3)And speaking of baking soda and baking powder, the other thing we did at this program was to bake mini pumpkin doughnuts. I love baking with the kids, letting them sniff the spices, beat in the eggs, and count out the cups of flour. I don't have an oven at the library, alas and alack. If I did I would be doing cooking programs regularly!  But I do have a min-donut maker inherited from my much missed mother-in-law, and it works beautifully. In fact, we now have a 2nd donut maker, which sped up the process while the kids worked on the gummy pumpkins. The kids each got to take a sample home, because we don't eat in the library!

You can find the basic recipe at

Coming next: adventures with cranberries and corn, apples and sweet potatoes!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Back As I STEAM Along

I haven't posted in 2 years because work and life were so busy. But I am going to try to do some posts here related to my "STEAM" programs.

It has become the thing now to push girls towards math and science, and I am glad that neither I nor my daughters had this foisted upon us. If I'd had a choice as a kid between being a ballerina or a scientist, I'd have always gone for the ballerina. As a matter of fact, I've done ballet class for the last 20 odd years, and am quite confident in conducting storytimes with ballet content.

Science? Not so much.

So when my boss forced me into creating a STEAM program last year, I panicked. Especially since it was supposed to be for kids ages 6+.

I know nothing about code--though I have worked with HTML for years.  Robotics? No, no experience. All the cool stuff they're doing at our big branches is totally beyond my capabilities.

But I also knew--and proved after a year's worth of programs, that I wasn't going to GET 6-12 year olds. In our neighborhood the kids that age are either in after school programs or 60 gazillion other activities. Alas, they barely use our library for anything, never mind science programs!

What we DO have are a fair number of preschoolers. The average age of a kid at our STEAM programs is between 3 and 6.  And though again, I am not a scientist, doing programs for this age range is old, old hat to me.

And I learned to play to my strengths.

I know little about the science of baking, but I am a damned good baker and I know how to cook with kids. So making pumpkin doughnuts became a lesson in leavening. We made cranberry sauce and learned about the properties of cranberries (they bounce and float, and that's how they're harvested) and a little about pectin.  Stuff like that.

We don't always cook,but there's usually either a cooking project or an art activity each week, and something to take home.

I don't know how much the kids are learning, I'd guess most of it just sails away from them.
But they have fun. And I do too!

This is just an introduction, or a background to why I am doing this stuff. After this, I plan to post program ideas and some very useful links.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Lessons of Dr Seuss

There is a librarian in the news right now for rejecting a set of Dr Seuss books that the Squatter in the White House's wife donated to her school. And clearly, she is making her move to be a celebrity and perhaps get a "Mover and Shaker" award from ALA.  But for the most part, she is an idiot who represents the worst in current librarianship.

I'm with her in that her district doesn't need what probably amounts to about $100 more worth of Dr Seuss books in comparison to many other, far more impoverished districts. And she could have just kept her mouth shut and donated the books accordingly.  But that's not what is truly frosting this MLS carrying twit. It's the political correctness of  it all.

Now first of all, she is talking about the wife of the man who has brought open bigotry back into fashion, who thinks there are "good people" among torch carrying neo-Nazis.  So expecting political correctness in her choice of books is, to say the least, hilarious.

But her view, that Dr Seuss is a perfect example of the Squatter's base's sort of viewpoint, is utter bullshit.

Yes, there are lots of  what would now be politically incorrect stuff in Seuss's early works. But he was a product of his times. It was 1930s America. And it wasn't for kids. It was advertising, and military training films, and other things not aimed at kids.

His kids work is NOT like that at all. Instead, it is filled with lessons like "A person's a person, no matter how small," in "Horton Hears A Who."  It's got ecological messages, like in the "Lorax."

And take a look at "The Sneetches."  It's as anti-discrimination as you can get. That's the whole point of the story:

As for those lovely alternative books that she suggested?
They're the sort that sit on the shelf here in my library full of privileged white families.
They never go anywhere.

Meanwhile, the Seuss books continue to fly off the shelves....................
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